travelBulletin’s exclusive Cruise Industry Survey has revealed the key issues facing Australia’s travel agents as they fight for a place in a booming cruise sector. Here are some of this year’s findings.

Amid spectacular growth and another record year for cruise sales, Australia’s travel agents have offered their insight into the best performing cruise lines, the state of the local market and the looming threats that most concern them.

For the second consecutive year, travelBulletin and its sister publications Cruise Weekly and Travel Daily have partnered with Stollznow Research to offer a national snapshot of the cruise industry from the perspective of the Australian travel trade.

Compiled from the responses of 350 travel agents across all states and retail groups, the 2017 Cruise Industry Survey offers a unique insight into how the major cruise lines are perceived, where their strengths lie, who performs best in areas like sales support and training, and what issues are causing the most concern.

It confirms a thriving seafaring economy, with the increasingly grand and more numerous ships on offer in Australian and international waters translating directly into strong growth for local agents.

Of those surveyed, 83% said their cruise sales had grown in the past 12 months, with a further 16% saying sales were at least equal to last year and only 1% reporting a decrease.

Just over half (51%) said that growth had come at the expense of coach touring, while others felt it had impacted on domestic tourism (46%), overseas short haul (36%) and overseas long haul travel (36%).

Royal Caribbean International took the lead as the most commonly sold ocean operator, booked by 82.2% of respondents. It narrowly overtook last year’s leader Princess Cruises – sold by 81.9% of respondents – and was ahead of other major lines including P&O Cruises (75%), Carnival Cruise Lines (65%), Celebrity Cruises (60%), Holland America Line (59%) and Norwegian Cruise Line (42%).

Despite strong growth, most agents said they feared losing sales to overseas retailers, with 30% saying the risk was ‘extreme’, a significant increase from last year’s 24%.

Almost half (49%) said they had lost sales to overseas retailers, with a further 13% reporting they had lost “a lot” of sales off shore.

A majority were also concerned about direct sales, with 53% saying they had lost some sales to direct channels and 17% saying they lost “a lot”.

The best cruise lines ranked

Azamara Club Cruises came out on top for overall sales service in the survey’s ocean cruise category.

The line’s sales team achieved a score of 84 this year, placing it in front of Princess Cruises (80), Celebrity Cruises (78) and Royal Caribbean International (76).

Princess Cruises was considered best for agent training and development, coming ahead of P&O Cruises, Azamara and Crystal Cruises.

Princess was also cited as the line clients asked for most by name, followed by Royal Caribbean and P&O Cruises.

And when it came to the all-important commissions, Regent Seven Seas Cruises was considered to offer the best, ranking ahead of Silversea Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Crystal.

River operators extend their lead

Though not as bullish as ocean cruising, the river cruise sector still showed good growth since last year. Forty-three percent of respondents said their river sales had grown over the past 12 months, with 48% saying they were steady and 10% reporting a decrease.

APT and Scenic dominated the river cruise space, showing a strong lead over rivals.

Both were tied for top place as the most commonly booked river operators, sold by 61% of travel agents. They were well ahead of others including Travelmarvel (40%), Avalon Waterways (39%), Viking Cruises (31%), Evergreen/Emerald Waterways (30%) and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection (28%).

Scenic and APT were the lines most often asked for by name, and were also considered to offer the best commissions.

Small ships draw big interest

With a succession of new entrants and modern ships soon to debut, small ship operators and expedition lines have taken a high profile over the past year.

Though still small segments, both areas have drawn a positive response from travel agents. Forty-four percent said their small ship sales had increased in the past year and 51% said sales were equal to last year, with just 5% reporting a decrease.

Among expedition cruise sales, 38% of agents reported an increase, 50% were stable and 11% suggested a decline.

Among small ship lines, Fred Olsen Cruises was ranked best for overall sales service, followed by SeaDream Yacht Club, Viking Cruises, Seabourn and Ponant.

The same five lines were also top for training and development, while Viking, Windstar Cruises and Seabourn were considered best for commissions.

Among expedition operators, Crystal Yacht Expeditions, APT, Scenic, Aurora Expeditions and Ponant were considered best for overall rep service.

The same lines were joined by Lindblad Expeditions in the top training category, while the most competitive commissions were attributed to Crystal, Scenic, APT and Ponant.

The full picture

The travelBulletin 2017 Cruise Industry Survey covers a broad range of other travel agent insights, including their views on the most effective tactical offers, individual cruise lines’ ability to solve customer problems, their visibility in trade and consumer advertising and quality of call centre service.

To find out more email [email protected] or call 1300 799 220.

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